Trans brothers, dear dear dear men, whom I respect and look up to and adore, allow me to quote noted gender theorist Inigo Montoya:
You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
I’m writing this because there’s been tons of talk about this slur recently. Trans men, some of them high profile, using tr*nny, trans women calling them on it, trans men demanding that they have a right to say it, et cetera. So before I start the serious stuff, I want to say that I’m not who you should listen to. This is really a trans women’s issue. You should listen to trans women. But they are already talking, and from your reactions, it’s clear we need to talk about this. From one trans guy to a bunch of others.
I’m not mad, guys. Well, ok, I’m a little mad. But mostly I just want to help fix this. We’ve made some bad mistakes. I used to use this word too, and I own that. I fucked up. We fucked up. Now let’s work to make this better.
Tr*nny is a slur. I think we’ve all agreed on that. Diverse sources, from Julia Serano to Kelly Osbourne, all agree. But for whom is it a slur? We know what image is summoned when we hear n*gger–a Black body. When we hear fag–a queer male body. When we hear d*ke–a queer female body. These words evoke certain identities. There are clear images associated with them. Fags are effeminate. D*kes are too masculine to be proper women. What clear image is evoked by tr*nny?
You know as well as I do: it’s the image of a trans woman. A “male” body, or rather, a body doctors would assign as male, in women’s clothing. A person attempting–and always failing, in these images–to be female. That’s what the image has historically been, and with only a few tiny changes, that’s what the image is now.
Whenever I have this debate, I suggest people google “tr*nny.” I stand by that suggestion. Click over the image tab and you’ll see trans women and drag queens galore, a few car parts, and fabulously enough, a picture of Kate Bornstein with a photoshopped mermaid’s tail, but almost never a trans man. When you do see trans men online associated with the slur, they’re almost always calling themselves tr*nnies. They’re not having the word pinned on them by cis people. This distinction is excruciatingly important.
The fact that cis people don’t call trans men tr*nnies very often illuminates two important things about trans male experience: the degree to which are and have been invisible, and what a weird place we stand in as female-assigned men in a patriarchal world.
The invisibility is a big part of what’s scary about being a trans man. We’re so unspeakable that there isn’t even a common word used to degrade exclusively us. When we look into history for gender variant people, we see trans women, and we see this word used against them. We see few trans men, and just like those historical trans men are mostly invisible, so are the structures of oppression used to keep them down.
Reclaiming tr*nny feels like a way to have a history. But that word was never our history. It feels like a way to name and confront those invisible oppressive structures. But it doesn’t do that work, because while the structures that oppress trans women have many elements in common with the ones that oppress us, they’re not the exact same ones.
That’s because, like I said, trans men are in such a weird position in relation to patriarchy. To the patriarchal eye, we seem to following the sexist imperative that being a man is better than being a woman, which of course the patriarchy is all for. But we’re doing it by violating another central patriarchal imperative: that people with vaginas are women.
So we move through this sexist world in a peculiar manner–able to wield our male privilege when we’re allowed to function as men, but subject to a particularly painful brand of transphobic and homophobic sexism when we’re understood as women.
Sure, sometimes trans guys get called tr*nny. But let’s please be real: It’s not that often, and it’s a recent phenomenon. Maybe we’ll get to the point where it’s a common enough slur against trans men that we can start to have the reclamation conversation. But man, I hope we don’t. It’s depressing and comical, us wanting our very own slur.
Sure, you might have a trans woman friend who doesn’t mind you calling yourself a tr*nny. This is because women, like men, don’t always agree with one another!
Sure, you may be very attached to the word “tr*nny” as a part of your identity. You can identify as anything you want! But if it is absolutely imperative for you to use that word, and you using that word makes trans women feel unsafe around you, I’m not sure what to tell you. Maybe you should do some work within yourself, trying to discover why you have such an intense need to own a word that makes people feel unsafe. All of which is to say that, ultimately, your identity is your identity, but you don’t need to share all of it with everyone if it makes them feel unsafe.
Raise your hand if you’re a young white trans guy who went/goes to a liberal arts college and is reading this on his Macbook. (My hand is raised.) Please know that most people who get tr*nny used against them on a daily basis are poor trans women of color. Please try to remember that working to include poor trans women of color in our movement is like, one of the most important things we need to do right now.
Which is more important, working to make trans women feel comfortable and safe in our community, or using a word that makes us feel all tingly and transgressive?
Resist transmisogyny. You do not need someone else’s slur to connect with your own history. Stop using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.
by on January 23, 2012
October is very hard for me.
It’s not that the early autumn in Wyoming isn’t beautiful. If you haven’t experienced the crisp air as the nights come earlier each day, or the last few cricket chirps of the season that follow the brilliant orange sunsets, you can’t really know the peaceful, quiet contemplation this time of year brings those few of us fortunate to make our homes here.
But it’s those cues, these turns of the calendar pages, that remind me of the tragedy that autumn brought us 13 years ago, and start us reflecting on what our family, and our society, have learned from it.
Thirteen years ago this week his father, brother and I were at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colo., with our firstborn son, Matthew Shepard. He was 21, and dying. Just days before, he had been just like millions of American college students whose names are not known to the world — getting the hang of his new classes, adapting to a new campus, making friends. His father and I thought his biggest challenges were keeping money in his checking account and getting his homework in on time.
But here he was in intensive care, the victim of a terrible, senseless attack at the hands of two other young men who, at some point in their lives, learned it was OK to hate others for being different, to victimize them, to disregard their humanity.
Matt passed away quietly in the early morning hours of Oct. 12, 1998, with his family at his bedside. He died because of violence fueled by anti-gay hatred. For a lot of reasons, some of which we will probably never quite understand, the world had been watching, praying for him, and voicing their outrage.
October cannot go by anymore, and never will again, without us wondering what might have been, for us and for so many other families, if hatred of gay, and lesbian, and bisexual, and transgendered people, and all those whom others simply think might be, had been rooted out long ago.
In the painful months that followed Matt’s death, we came to understand a lot of things we never knew before: about hate crimes, and how shockingly many there were every year; how they are characterized by obvious signs, like excessive violence, and the denial that surrounds them; and how hard they were to prove, and prosecute, and appropriately punish, with sensitivity to the victim’s loved ones and the wider community.
We learned about the LGBT community and its long struggle for acceptance and equality. We learned how easily LGBT people could be fired from their jobs just for being themselves, how they couldn’t serve their country openly, couldn’t marry, couldn’t adopt kids in some states. And most of all, we learned about the fear so many otherwise good people had in their hearts about their gay neighbors, coworkers and family members.
We set about creating a legacy for Matt. He had always been interested in politics, human rights and LGBT equality — he had in fact been at a Coming Out Week meeting at the University of Wyoming on his last night. With the support and sympathy of the thousands who wrote us and the millions who were touched by his death, we decided to try to make a difference in his name.
Thirteen years later, the Matthew Shepard Foundation stands up for the LGBT community and its straight allies, in Matt’s memory. We are a modest organization, but we do our part and persuade others to do theirs, as well. We pushed — for a long, long time — for federal hate crime legislation that includes LGBT people. That finally happened in another chilly October two years ago — one more step forward. We go to schools and companies and community groups to implore everyone there to embrace diversity. We try to give young people hope, despite their parents’ or peers’ rejection of them, that they have a bright future. We keep Matt’s story alive and look to turn bystanders into activists.
It’s been such a long, sometimes tiring journey, but a rewarding one, as well. The coming out stories that young people tell me, slowly, almost imperceptibly, got better. More and more, the story ends not with a young person being turned out of the house, but affirmed, and accepted, lovingly. Every time I speak at a college somewhere in America, I am hoping I will hear another one like that.
Marriage equality is coming slowly, state by state, and military service has finally been opened to all, regardless of sexual orientation. This is progress. But we have a lot of work left to do, in employment discrimination, in family law and, most of all, in people’s individual lives.
We all have a role to play. We all have our story to tell. When we all finally stand up and demand equality, the scourge of hatred will wither and disappear. And maybe we can all have our Octobers back to enjoy for what they’re meant to be — a season to see, celebrate, change.
Need help with adoption expenses? An LGBT-inclusive nonprofit, Helpusadopt.org, is offering grants between $500 and $15,000 for just that purpose. The spring deadline for their semi-annual grants is April 15, so you’ll have to get moving if you want to apply. I have no affiliation or experience with the organization, so you’re on your own from here. I’ll simply pass along their press release in its entirety.
I’ve brushed up on this subject numerous times, but I found the many knots I was left to unravel, too insatiable a cleft not to get to the bottom of it. Labels. Everyone knows what they are, and I’m sure the conscious choices to slap them on ourselves within the LGBT community varies from person to person. The LGBT community harbors some of the most proud people I’ve ever known, myself included. We should be proud. We’ve come a long way from the stigma that once threatened to dislimb us. I suppose we could be doing worse for ourselves, but in all actuality, this labeling system so many of us have adopted, puts us in the same bigot boat as those in the ‘straight world’ who exhaust a lot of their resources in attempts to belittle us.
Clay and his partner of 20 years, Harold, lived in California. Clay and Harold made diligent efforts to protect their legal rights, and had their legal paperwork in place—wills, powers of attorney, and medical directives, all naming each other. Harold was 88 years old and in frail medical condition, but still living at home with Clay, 77, who was in good health.